Letter from the Chief Disciple

Joel Sansho Benton

Dear Sangha,

Shugen Roshi has asked me to serve as Chief Disciple for the Fall 2022 Ango. I’m very excited for the upcoming challenge to serve the sangha, but I also feel trepidation at being unready and a bit undeserving. I will do my very best to be a worthy Chief Disciple. Daido Roshi would always encourage us to trust ourselves, and I will try to remember his words amidst my apprehensions.

When I first came to Zen practice my motivation was almost entirely for my own gain, seeking personal liberation from a painful life. But as my practice evolved over the years I slowly came to realize the immense importance of letting the world in, and allowing myself to feel the suffering of all fellow sentient beings. Some years ago when the sangha started our BFOD study groups, I was somewhat skeptical as to the effects it would have. I understood the urgency and immediacy of the work to be done, but the problems seemed so entrenched and insurmountable. But I gradually began to see how interconnected we all are. The What is Whiteness work has made me reflect on how white privilege not only harms others, but also causes my own suffering and has made my own life much more limited.

I have always felt nourished by the faith and perseverance of all of the Zen practitioners that have come before me. At times during my Zen practice I have had periods of self-doubt and discouragement. Before I became a student I thought all long-time Zen students never experienced pain or self-doubt, but their sharing with me of their struggles gave me faith to continue.  Hopefully I can provide an example of strong practice for the Sangha during this Fall Ango intensive. I would also like to express my gratitude to Shugen Roshi for giving me this opportunity to serve the Sangha. I hope to receive much guidance and support from him and from all of you as well. 

As the Monastery’s beekeeper, one of the important gifts that the honey bees have given me is a deeper experience of their total selflessness to the well-being of the entire hive. During this period of peaceful dwelling, may we all deepen our selflessness to our sangha hive as we enjoy the graceful transition from summer into fall.

With love and sincerity, 

Joel Sansho Benton first attended a Zen Training Weekend at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1990. He has been practicing continuously since 1998 and became a formal student in 2001. He received jukai from Daido Roshi in 2004 and has also done two extended periods of residency at the Monastery. He is a carpenter, photographer, avid gardener, lover of plants and trees, and is the Monastery’s beekeeper. He lives in Phoenicia, NY.